The Art of Deception, a WIP #workinprogress #regency #sweetromance

A Work in Progress.

I’ve been struggling a bit with this one. I had a whole series of chapters describing how Alice was recruited and trained, with a few to try to introduce the hero, Roderick Lord Hightower. It wasn’t working. I realized I could cut all that out, introducing it as background, and suddenly it’s going again.  The bits about codes and secret ink I’d posted earlier are for this one.

Let me know what you think.

Funny Doings in Bristol.

The Asp scudded up the Severn, riding the tide towards Bristol harbour. A fast monthly packet from New York, she’d stopped off the coast of Ireland near Cork. Then after spotting Land’s end she’d worked her way up Bristol Channel. She carried Roderick, Lord Hightower, lately military attaché to the British embassy in Washington and his friend Edward Spode.

A month of dreary cold North Atlantic spray followed by several days of tedious tacking had left both men ready for land. Even if Edward had only joined the ship at Cork as part of his duty to meet the monthly packet and escort diplomatic couriers. They’d tried to hop a shore boat as soon as the Asp lowered anchor in the Avonmouth. A day later, they were, finally, ashore.

Lord Roderick nodded to his companion, “That young chit.” He pointed to a servant on the low rise above the harbour, “she’s counting the ships.”

“No, she’s just watching the workmen down in basin. Probably has a special friend or possibly even a husband at sea. You’re seeing things.”

“I tell you. She’s counting. Didn’t you see her while our ship was docked in the Avonmouth yesterday?”

“Roddy, old chap, you need to relax. I know it was hard, spying on those bloody rebels, but we’re home, England, Bristol. You’ve been on the jump since I met you on the packet boat off Cork. It’s someone else’s problem, if it’s a problem at all.”

“There is something to what you say. Edward. Suspicion is an occupational hazard in our line of work. However, I don’t think I’m jumping at shadows.”

“This is England, we don’t do things like that. Even the blasted French spies are polite. It’s not like poisons are available in every druggist like rhubarb.” Edward watched his friend; he seemed to relax. “If you’ll stay out of trouble so that I have the chance to do it, I’ll send the express to Lord Grey that we’ve landed.”

“Good, can you also check about my other shipment?”

“Which one? Sorry, you mean the one from Philadelphia?”

“Yes, I gave my manservant Thomas the cipher machine, code book and correspondence, we, ah recovered, in Washington. Good thing too, my bags were thoroughly searched in New York.”

“Along with his wife? You said earlier that you had someone, a servant, in the President’s House working for you. Damn Roddy, you’re good.”

“Wasn’t a servant, a slave. We had to decamp in a hurry. I home Mr. Merry was up to cleaning up the details. It was rather a mess.”

“Anthony Merry? Don’t worry, I’ve worked with him before, he’ll smooth things over. He may only be a wine-merchant’s son, but he’s a professional, one of the best.”

“Can’t be worse than Sir Robert was.”

The girl gathered up the sheets she had been exposing to the sun, and put them in her basket. Roderick noticed her writing something on a piece of paper and then tucking it away. After that she started walking back into town. Lord Roderick told his friend, “See you in a few minutes Edward, some business to attend to.”

“Roddy, Drop it!”

Lord Roderick raced through the streets. Edward shook his head in disbelief and then followed. The express would have to wait. Roderick paused to catch his breath, smoothed his garments, and sauntered, deliberately casual, over to her.  He said, “Mademoiselle, bonne journee, est-il pas?”

Without missing a beat, the young lady replied, “C’est bien, ou allez vous Mousier?” in an excellent Parisian accent.

“The Swan, I think that’s where I’m booked.”

“And then London, on the stage, I’d think. Or are you staying in Bristol?”

“It depends.”

“Depends, on what, Sir?”

“Whether the assembly is worth the candle.”

“I wouldn’t know, Sir. My Mistress likes it.” She nodded to him, curtsied, and then walked off. He waited a few seconds and followed her. As he watched from a distance, she put a small piece of paper under a stone near a street corner, and then marked the wall with chalk. It didn’t take her long, and had he not been watching her carefully he’d have missed the whole thing.

“Come on you laggard,” Roderick called to his friend, “We’ve got her. She’s a real professional.” He dashed up, took the paper from under the stone, and started to read it.

“See, Edward, it is a count of the ships. Profes-”

He didn’t get to finish his statement. A member of the militia, delegated to watch the docks, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Sir, if you’d please. You’re coming with us.” Another soldier stood behind him, ready to back him up should force be required.

“What for?”

“We think you’re a spy. Information has been laid to that effect.”

“What do you mean?” Roderick rapidly looked around, and then saw the chit, still carrying her basket, standing a few yards away. She smiled at him, mockingly curtsied, and then turned to continue her daily chores.

After several hours of tedious conversation and explaining, which only ended when he showed his credentials to the commander of the guard, Roderick was finally freed of his confinement. His friend Edward met him as he left.

“I booked us rooms at the Swan for a few days. The Assembly’s tomorrow night and rumour is that there are some dashed pretty young ladies in Bristol.”

“I see you have your priorities in order.”

“Your’re not expected back in the city for at least another week. I telegraphed[1] Lord Grey and he said so himself in his reply. Why not enjoy the trip? Besides there’s no point in catching the night mail to London. Tedious in the extreme, not to mention dashed uncomfortable.”

Roderick gave his friend a rueful grin, “I don’t know what I’d do without you. Gives me a chance to track down that French agent. Clever one, her, reporting me to the watch.”

Lord Roderick spent the next morning watching the hill where that servant had been. Even though it was a fine sunny morning, excellent for the airing of sheets, she did not turn up.  Edward did, “Roddy, old boy, leave it.”

“She’ll be here. I will catch her. No brown-haired, blue-eyed chit gets the drop on Roderick Lord Hightower. No matter how pretty she is.”

“Roddy, it’s most likely not her washing day. She’s off doing, I don’t know, whatever housemaids do when it’s not washing day. Scrubbing floors or something equally dreary. You probably were the best thing that happened to her yesterday, if not in her life.”

“I suppose you’re right, but she used a dead-drop, and was quick about it. A trained professional. A French professional.”

“If you say so, but I still think she was playing a game with you Roddy.”

“Very likely, but something wasn’t right about that chit. I could smell it.”

“You’re making a spectacle of yourself waiting here.”

“How many maids speak perfect French?”

“Not many, I’ll admit, but maybe her mistress is an emigre, or maybe she is one herself. There’s bound to be a perfectly sensible and not very mysterious reason. You need to stop jumping at shadows, Roddy.”

“If you say so.”

“I do, now how about we find ourselves a good public house and something worth eating.”

“In Bristol?”

“They must eat something here, and the beer isn’t half-bad. Or we might find some half-decent Madeira.”

Sir Roderick shrugged, “I suppose you’re correct, as usual, Edward. Lead on MacDuff.”

“It’s Lay on MacDuff, but I second your intent. Once more into the breach, dear friend, once more.”

The Horn, the pub Edward led Lord Roderick to, for their repast, had a well-deserved reputation, even better than the Swan’s, for the quality of its food and drink. While Edward negotiated with the innkeeper for the hire of a private parlour and an impressive spread, Lord Roderick idly watched the crowds in the street.

“It’s her!” He shouted. “That servant.”

As he ran out the door, Edward shouted after him, “Roddy no! I’ve just arranged for … Damn.” As he dashed after his friend, he shouted to the innkeeper, “Please hold the parlour for me, shan’t be long.”

Roderick followed the servant girl while she walked along the street. She turned to talk with a street vendor, and he dodged into a doorway. Then she continued on her way, apparently unaware of his presence.

He followed, carefully avoiding her direct view.

Minutes later, she turned into a stylish Modiste’s establishment, Madame Fanchion’s. He rushed to follow her inside. He ran into a young woman on her way out. “I’m sorry. I nearly knocked you over.”

The young woman was obviously not a maid, as she was dressed in the latest style.

She curtseyed, “I’m sorry. Should have been watching out myself.”

“Are you hurt?”

“No,” she smiled, “Not at all.” Lord Roderick could not help but notice she had a beautiful smile. “Can I help you?”

“I was looking for a servant, a girl. She turned into this shop.”

“She did? Amazing. Imagine turning into a shop.”

“No, I mean she entered the door.”

The young woman turned to the modiste, herself, “M. Fanchion, did you see a servant girl enter? I didn’t.”

Mais non, Madamoiselle.”

The woman shrugged, “Sorry, can’t help you.”

Lord Roderick peered inside. If the servant had entered, she had vanished into the backrooms.  He shook his head, “Lost the spoor …What has become of my manners?” He bowed, “May I introduce myself, Roderick Lord Hightower.”

The young woman curtsied again with a blush, “Delighted, Miss Alice Green, daughter of Lady Green.”

They would have conversed longer, but a stout middle-aged woman joined them, “Miss Alice, talking to strangers. What would Lady Green say?”

If they’re rich enough, nothing. “I don’t know Martha.”

“Well I do. Come.” The woman led her charge away, off to a waiting carriage. “You are needed at home.” Once they were aboard the postilions prodded their mounts and it clattered off, cleaving a path through the crowd with the imperious disregard only noble status could provide.

Edward finally caught up with his friend. “What happened Roddy?”

“I don’t know. You’re right, I need a repairing lease. I’m jumping at shadows, seeing things. I’ll send an express to London and then stay a couple of weeks in Bath.”

“Stout idea, but dinner first. I hope that parlour’s still open.”

“Stout, save me from stout middle-aged harridans.”

“Governess? They can be intimidating.”


Meanwhile Alice was being evaluated in the carriage as they rode out of the city. In addition to ‘Martha’, Mrs. Hudson, the woman in charge of training new female agents, gave her critique. “Did you tell that man your real name?”



“I don’t know. It just, I mean he smiled.”

Mrs. Hudson stared at Miss Aldershot. “What do you think?”

“Other than that, she did well. That trick of hers, yesterday, to put the watch on that man. Masterful.”

“Yes. … Coming up against a French agent on your first test. It does make for an additional level of difficulty.”

Alice inserted, “Was he a real French spy?”

“Oh yes my dear. Very much one.”

Alice smiled, “Good. I thought something was odd about him. How did he escape from the watch?”

“Most likely a few guineas dropped into the right pocket. Jobbery will be the death of us.”

“Did you like my reports?”

“Most observant. They were accurate and timely… Miss Aldershot, what do you think, is she ready?”

“I think we’ve taught her as best we can. Mr. Ou says she’s earned her black belt, and we’ve both seen that she’s mastered the ciphers and concealed writing. Time for her to move on. Bath?”

“Bath it is. I shall be sorry to see you go, Miss Mapleton, but -”

“Needs must?”


“I was wondering,” Alice said, “but no probably not.”


“The assembly tonight. Could I be permitted to attend, perhaps with Lucinda?”

“Teach that sluggard some tricks?”

“If you wish. It might motivate her to get on.”

Mrs. Hudson laughed, “That it might, or I might be lucky and have her meet someone. I’m sorry to say she’ll be a better squire’s wife than an agent. I had my hopes for her. Loyal to a fault, but -”

“Not quick on the uptake?”

“Precisely, Miss Mapleton.”

“Then may I make a suggestion?”

Mrs. Hudson nodded.

“Have Lucy play the heiress, and me her companion. No one watches companions, and with luck she might meet someone.”


Lord Roderick slowly walked back to the Horn. He shook his head in sad disbelief. Edward met him, “At least you didn’t get arrested this time.”

“I must be losing my grip. I would swear that servant went into the shop. She didn’t. Or, …, No.”

“No, what old chap?”

“I bumped into her on the way out. The old quick change. Edward, we’re dealing with a trained professional agent.”

“Hope you’ve put the scare into her then. Come on, dinner will be cold, and the Horn does one very special spread. You must miss fresh food after those weeks at sea.”

[1] The optical telegraph linked ports and coastal points with London during the Napoleonic wars. It would only have taken a few minutes to send a query and get a reply. At least during the day and in good weather.

FrankenKitty 2#wewriwar


Welcome to Weekend Writing Warriors.  This is a sample from my work in progress, “Frankenkitty”, and I hope you enjoy it.  It started out as a young-adult superhero book, and well, you’ll see. Last week’s was an introduction, where Dr. Frankenstein’s notebooks emerged. This week Jenny makes an important decision – to take up medicine. She asks to dissect a real frog in biology class, unlike nearly all the girls, and is paired with two ‘nerdy girls’ Amber and Mary. Things are about to ‘get real.’

“Do we have to?” Mary and Amber enjoyed working together.

“Yes, unless you have some very good reason why not.”

That Jennifer had been a ‘C’ student and they ‘A+’ students wasn’t quite a good enough reason.

Their reserve lasted all of ten minutes; up until Jennifer had a turn with the scalpel and delicately laid open the frog. She quickly identified the liver and heart, then with Mary’s help pulled the intestines to the side to see the blood vessels behind them. Mr. Jefferson remarked that it was one of the best presentations he’d ever seen a student team do.

Amber asked, barely keeping the astonishment from her voice, “Where’d you learn that?”

Dr. Frankenstein’s lab notes would be the truth; he had worked with frogs before trying bigger things. That was so clearly unacceptable that Jennifer skirted the truth and said, “I looked it up in study hall – I wanted to be prepared for class.”

This is a work in progress. In other news, I’ve become a booktrope author, but more on that latter. It has meant a change in pen-name. Last Weeks is here and you can read the whole chapter if you’d rather.

Friday chapter from a WIP. Frankenkitty.

The Beginning.

frankenkitty It was all because of the car that ran over Mr. Snuffles. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, exactly. He’d sneaked out the back door one morning. That wouldn’t have been too bad, but then he’d dashed into the road. Had Jimmy not been learning how to drive, he’d have been able to stop in time or swerve to miss the poor cat. But he didn’t and now Mr. Snuffles lay on the side of the road, with all nine of his lives rapidly passing.

Jennifer ran from her house and picked him up, but it was too late to call the vet. He’d been named after her favorite character in a children’s show when she was three and been her constant companion ever since. Now he was gone. Jennifer’s mother came out and did her best to comfort her little girl. Not so little now, fifteen, but still crying over her best friend. She helped her daughter wrap the poor cat in a towel, then in a plastic bag.

“We’ll bury him at our vacation house. He liked it at Grandma’s and it will be good to know he’s still there.”

Jennifer tearfully agreed, and so it was that Mr. Snuffles rested in the deep freeze, awaiting the family summer trip and his ultimate fate.

In the meantime, high school beckoned. There was homework to be done, tests to be taken, boys to giggle about and parties to attend. Life, for everyone who wasn’t Mr. Snuffles, had to go on.

One way life went on was for old people to get older. The cranky, strange old woman across the street, a German war bride, was finally moving to assisted living. She, and her husband, had moved to the neighborhood when it was first built, way back in the 1950’s, and settled in for the long haul. He’d died, years ago, but she’d grimly hung on to her independence until old age, and the urgings of her children and her grandchildren, finally forced her to move. She couldn’t take the accumulation of junk from all the years with her. The family had selected what they wanted to keep, and the rest was for sale.

Despite her reputation for crankiness and order, she actually had a soft spot for Jennifer. She’d seen Mr. Snuffles fate, and knew how much the girl missed her cat. So the morning of the estate sale, before the dealers arrived to scoop up the best bits, she hobbled across the street and rang the bell.

“Mrs. Jones,” Jennifer’s mother answered the door, “What are you doing here?”

“Emily, ist your daughter here?”


“Ach gut. I have something for her. Something I think she vill like.”

“Oh, well please come in. How is the move coming along?”

“I don’t know. The Towers are a nice enough place, but there are just old people living there. It’s like a prison or warehouse. Everyone just waiting to die. I thought I left that behind mich in Germany.”

“I’m sorry. We’ll visit, if that will help.”

“If young Jennifer could, she’s always been such a gut girl. Anyway, I must get back.”

Her mother called down to her children, “Jennifer, it’s Mrs. Jones. She wants to see you, and”

Jennifer raced up from the rec-room. She’d learned one scary Halloween, when she’d been the only one of her friends willing to brave the consequences that Mrs. Jones’ crankiness and fearsome looks belied a soft heart and friendly character. She said, “Mrs. Jones I’m sorry that you’re leaving. Did you need my help for something?”

“In a way I do. Please come mit me, I haf something for you.”

Her mother nodded at her, and Jennifer helped the old lady back across the street. They entered her house and Mrs. Jones painfully lowered herself onto one of the stuffed chairs in the living room. Then she pointed to a wooden box. A shipping crate the size of a footlocker sat there on the other side of the room. It was from the late 1940’s when she and her husband had come to America.

“That is for you, my dear. Use it vell.”

“May I see what’s in it here?”

“Ov course.”

Jennifer opened the lid and looked at the contents. They were books. Dusty old hand-written books.

“Mrs. Jones, what are these?”

“They were my great grand-vaters. From his laboratory.”

Jennifer opened the one she held and tried to read it. “It’s in German. I don’t know German.”

“Not German, Schwabish. Bring it here and I’ll read the first few words. You’ll soon learn.”

“I will?”

“It’s an ancestor of English. Not Hoch Deutsch.”

Jennifer took the first volume to Mrs. Jones. The old woman opened it and began to read, “Experiments in the reanimation of dead tissue.”

“What?” Jennifer asked, “What is this?”

“Didn’t you know, I am a descendent of the great Dr. Baron von Frankenstein. These are his journals.”

“Did he really do it? Make dead things live again?”

“I don’t know.” Mrs. Jones smiled at her, “But it might be fun to try.”

“But why me? Surely your family.”

Mrs. Jones reached over with a shaky age-spotted hand and tousled Jennifer’s hair.

“Ach, I had these from my mother, she from hers, and she from hers. With a sacred charge to guard them. Not let them be used for evil. Mein daughter, she’d just sell them. I trust you.” She paused, “Besides, this way I know I’ll have at least one visitor at the Towers who wants to see me.”

Jennifer regarded the crate with awe. “Thank you Mrs. Jones. I don’t think I can carry all that by myself.”

“I know just the thing. There is a wagon in the garage, my son’s. Take it.”

“Is that OK with you?” Jennifer had heard about the tragedy of Mrs. Jones’ son from her parents. He’d disappeared into the jungles of Vietnam, never to be seen again. His parents had kept his room intact, almost as a shrine, pending his return.

“Yes, I’m sure he’d agree. He was a good boy and would have liked you.”

“He’d have been older than my father.”

Mrs. Jones gave her one of her cryptic fleeting smiles, then replied, “That’s true. I’d rather you have his wagon than any of those vultures.”

Jennifer brought the wagon around to the front door. Then by first unloading the crate, moving it to the wagon and then reloading it was able to take the books away. By then the crowds had started to arrive so she could only wave goodbye to Mrs. Jones.

That evening, alone in her room, Jennifer paged through the first volume. Despite Mrs. Jones’ reassurances the German didn’t suddenly spring to life for her, and the archaic Schwabian dialect gave the online translation programs she could find fits. There were a few words, “rot”, “blut”, “muskel”, “vene”, and “arterie” that she could guess. There were detailed and beautiful anatomical drawings that were drawn in the Baron’s delicate hand. She studied these intently. Then about halfway through the volume she noticed something. It was now written in English. She paged backwards to find where the language switched and came to this passage near the beginning.

“My assistant Igor has been passing copies of my notes to my rival Count Melindorf. Since neither he nor the Count read English, I shall take advantage of my time in London and continue in this barbarous and uncouth language.”

Jennifer smiled to herself. This was going to be much easier than she thought.

It was probably just as well. Mrs. Jones hadn’t lasted long in the Towers. The news came the next day when Jennifer and her mother were getting ready to visit her. The empty house across the street went up for sale that afternoon.


Continuing on from yesterday…

Even if you use a cipher system that does not carry incriminating evidence, you’re still left with the problem of sending the message. There were more than a few German spies picked up by the British in WW2 because one of their suitcases concealed a radio set.

If a message is obviously secret, even if it can’t be read, it’s obvious that the sender was trying to hide something. That could mean a short stay in a nasty prison followed by a short drop on a patented neck stretching machine or a shave with the ‘national razor.’ Neither is recommended for your health.

By the way this is a problem with book codes. Possession of a certain edition of a book, unless it’s dead common, could be evidence.

So what is a refined genteel lady of the regency to do?

Secret inks and concealed communications.

Step 1: write a letter. Not a problem, then as now females wrote lots of communications. Not email, twitter or texting, but on paper. Remember to inquire after everyone’s health and to tell the recipient up front that everyone here is well. (or not).

Step 2: Prick out or underline certain letters or words in the message. These are the real message. If these markings are noticed, and they will be if they’re in plain ink, you may be in trouble. On the other hand, if they spell out a love missive, you will be excused. It was not uncommon in the days when parents read every young ladies correspondence, to use a subterfuge like this.

Step 3: Use a secret ink to mark out the real real message. You could skip step 2 if appropriate.

So what can you use for an ink?

Here’s the problem, possessing the ink is evidence of your intent to conceal. A Lady of Quality would have vinegars, a few cosmetics, and even the contents of the ‘gozunda’ available to her. These make reasonably decent ‘organic’ inks, where the compound alters the browning temperature of the paper. Heat it and the message is revealed. (There were ‘sympathetic’ inks which required a developing reagent available at the time, but they’d be problematic for a Lady to be carrying around.)


One of the books I’m writing involves a young woman training to be a secret agent in 1803 England. The running title is either “The Art of Deception” or possibly “Pride and Extreme Prejudice.”

Spies like her would need to be versed in secret communications. Unfortunately, possession of a code machine – like Jefferson’s disks – would automatically show that she was a spy. So would possession of secret inks.

She needs a cipher, one that she could easily generate, and one where she could easily destroy the evidence. Given what was available at the time, the best idea seems to be to move the invention date of the “playfair” cipher back a few years and have her use it.

Playfair was the top British cipher for much of the 19th century, which only shows how lame were the opposition. It is one step up from mono-alphabetic encryption (the cryptograms you sometimes have in the better newspapers (although not the AJC)). It encrypts pairs of letters, but in a systematic manner. On a small enough and random enough set of messages this can be really tough to break. A not dissimilar approach occupied Alan Turing for much of 1942 and 1943 when trying to break the German Naval Enigma (they used it to encrypt the rotor settings). Long chunks of text and repeated keys are much easier.

It starts with a keyword and a square (could be a rectangle).  Say “nevermore” and a 5×5 square.

1 2 3 4 5

Put the keyword (nevermore in this example) in the first row, dropping repeated letters. Then fill in with the rest of the alphabet. Have I and J in the same square.

n e v r m
o a b c d
f g h i k
l p q s t
u w x y z

Then for each pair of letters do one of three things.

  • If they’re in opposite corners of a rectangle (th above) take the other corners of the rectangle th -> kq and ht -> qk.
  • If they’re in the same row or column (gh above) take the letters to their right or below gh ->hi, is -> sy. Wrap around if you have to. There are alternatives here. It’s a pity they weren’t used because this is a weak point.
  • If the same letter occurs twice in a row, ‘ll’ for example, encode it as lx lx.

That’s all reasonable, except the distribution of pairs of letters is not flat. ‘th’ is by far the most common pair, and much more common than ‘ht’. So given a long enough message we can count pairs and from that deduce the structure of the 5×5 square. Repeated pairs are very useful because they define relationships between infrequent letters.

One simple way to harden playfair (though not enough to make it secure by modern standards) is to make the key ‘progressive.’

a n e v r
m o b c d
f g h i k
l p q s t
u w x y z
a b n e v
r m o c d
f g h I k
l p q s t
u w x y z

And so on until the 13th iteration. After that it begins to lose too much key to be unique. (Iteration 25 would always be just the alphabet in the square.)

a b c d e
f g h i k
l m n v o
r p q s t
u w x y z

Other schemes would be better than this, but you get the idea.

Frankenkitty #1 #wewriwar


Welcome to Weekend Writing Warriors.  This is a sample from my work in progress, “Frankenkitty”, and I hope you enjoy it.  It started out as a young-adult superhero book, and well, you’ll see. The heroine has just lost her precious cat, “Mr. Snuffles” due to an unfortunate interaction with a moving vehicle. Her elderly neighbor from across the street has a present for her. We begin there.


Jennifer opened the lid and looked at the contents. They were books; dusty old hand-written books.

“Mrs. Jones, what are these?”

“They were my great grand-vaters, from his laboratory.”

Jennifer opened the one she held and tried to read it, “It’s in German; I don’t know German.”

“Not German, Schwabish; bring it here and I’ll read the first few words.”

Jennifer took the first volume to Mrs. Jones. The old woman opened it and began to read, “Experiments in the reanimation of dead tissue.”

Jennifer asked, “What is this?”

“Didn’t you know, I am a descendent of the great Dr. Baron von Frankenstein; these are his journals.”

This is a work in progress. In other news, I’ve become a booktrope author, but more on that next week.